Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Byte: The old ones are the best

I've recently started replaying X-Com: Terror From The Deep, thanks to the continued good game drought on PC. It was the review of UFO: Extraterrestrials in this month's PC Gamer that tipped me over the edge. They basically said that it's a straight X-Com clone, with better graphics, but without the charm, so you were better off getting Terror From The Deep off Steam, since it works out with tax around $6 - a staggering £3.

So that's what I did. I have, of course, played Terror From The Deep before. In fact, if you look in my huge CD softcase of videogames goodness, you'll find two copies of it (an original budget release dating back at least 8 years that I picked up when I was living in Sheffield, and a copy of it in the X-Com Collector's Edition pack, which is a good six or seven years old). So why buy it a third time? Well, it's worth paying £3 just so you can play it without needing the CD in the drive.

I've been a fan of the X-Com series for as long as I've played PC games. In fact, I actually skipped watching the pilot episode of The X-Files on BBC 2 (which I *really* wanted to watch) because I was too busy playing UFO: Enemy Unknown (a.k.a. X-Com: UFO Defense, if you're from North America) on my older brother's Pentium 75. Why watch alien conspiracies on TV when you can take part in your own, eh? So it may be surprising for you to learn that while I absolutely adored UFO: Enemy Unknown, I never really got on that well with Terror From The Deep.

Like most sequels of that era, it simply reskinned the game and made it a lot harder. I think the first time I tried out an alien base assault, I lost my entire squad because I ran out of ammunition and everyone got picked off on the retreat back to the Triton sub. Well, that and everyone got molecular controlled and went beserk, too. The reduced clip sizes for the weapons in Terror From The Deep make the game much harder, as you can't use auto-shots on everything you see - you have to use aimed or snap shots to conserve ammo. The aliens are also much more accurate than in Enemy Unknown, meaning that you have to make those snap shots count. There are also more species of alien that can mind control, or hit your soldiers with hallucinogenics, making them panic, go crazy or outright attack your other squad members. Which is all kinds of fun, as you might expect. Especially on three-stage ship terrorisms or alien base attacks...

I am getting to grips with it this time, however. And enjoying it lots, which is a bonus. I think the major reason for that is because while I completed Enemy Unknown a good half a dozen times, I didn't complete Terror From The Deep, so I'm still discovering new things about the game. And that's where the fun really lies: not just with the tactical battles (which you need to be much more tactically aware in than in Enemy Unknown), but with discovering new things about the alien threat as you research new artifacts and species. The research tree branches a little bit more unpredictably than the research tree in Enemy Unknown, so it's often something really obscure that you need to research before you get to be able to research something you're really after (such as the Molecular Control Laboratories, which I discovered the pre-requisite to last night). I think there's something really magical about discovering something in a game for the very first time. It's what can make videogames so much more rewarding than simply sitting down and watching TV - the feeling that you've achieved something, even when you're being entertained.

So yeah, in short, it's really fucking good. I do have some bad news, though. Tim Edwards is dead. He was tragically, yet heroically, killed while singlehandedly storming an Aquatoid Cruiser. (Which may explain why he never updates his blog) His brave sacrifice will never be forgotten. Richard Cobbett was also grievously wounded by a Xarquid while infiltrating a Gillman Battleship. Though at least he can put his feet up (or what's left of them, anyway) for a month while he recovers... (This is why the UFO: After... series was never as good as X-Com - they didn't let you rename soldiers after friends and acquaintances properly.)
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